Bay Leaves  
 --- Nikki Giovanni

I watched Mommy
Though I cooked
With Grandmother

With Grandmother I learned
To pluck chickens
Peel carrots
Turn chittlins inside out
Scrub pig feet

With Mommy I watched
leftovers for stew
Or vegetable soup
Great northern beans
Mixed collards turnips and mustard greens
Garlic cloves Bay Leaves
Very beautifully green
Stiff   so fresh
With just a pinch of salt
Not everything together
All the time but all the time
Keeping everything

I make my own
Frontier soup in a crock pot
I make my own ice cream with a pinch of salt
And everything else
With garlic
But fresh Bay Leaves
Are only for very special
Ox Tails

I Watched Mommy Cook

in the Elmer Street kitchen, 
at the gas stove, stirring 
a steaming pot

of grits, 
pulling crackling rib roasts 
from the oven, 
bent down 
to slip the broiler pan 
from underneath, 
flip sizzling lamb chops
with metal tongs, 

face glowing 
with thin sweat,
black hair 
falling free 
from its clip 
to tickle 
her fair neck, tired 

I thought 
every mother 
four course meals
during the week, 
covered all four 
food groups,
satisfied her husband's 
eclectic taste,
European schedule,
his stern rule 
for pre-dinner 
silence, his
demand for obedience
at the table.

I thought every mother
her intelligence,
curiosity, and
quick wit
into a brick house
filled with
a man's precious

She taught me
to bake. At 8,
I made a cake, cherry
from a box, red
bits bright
as blood,
then the icing
from scratch,
thick butter
laced with boiled
sugar, that sat 
on our tongues like
sweet oily

Suggested soundtrack: The Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”